New York City Child Welfare Agency Will Use Former Cops to Gauge Domestic Violence Risk

For New York’s Administration of Children Services (ACS), retired law enforcement officers have been working in-house since 2007 to advise their roughly 1,700 caseworkers. Today, the ACS will announce that these former cops are getting a broader child welfare beat that includes assessing the risk brought on by new adults moving into households served by the agency.

According to a new draft protocol shared with The Chronicle, ACS will now share guidance from so-called Investigative Consultants (ICs) with non-profits who contract with the city to provide support services to families, and who ask for guidance.* The investigators will help assess families who are not under active investigation by ACS when a new adult joins a household — a mother’s boyfriend, typically, according to ACS officials — and assumes care-taking duties for a child younger than 7.

“[This] has been evolving for some time — we have expanded the number of families receiving preventive services, and placed fewer kids in foster care,” said David Hansell, who was appointed ACS chief by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in early 2017. “From our perspective, it’s a significant expansion of our support for providers working with tens of thousands of families each year to address domestic violence concerns.”

The ICs involvement might include checking domestic violence databases for the new adult’s name, or passing along intervention tips to the non-profit. For example, if a substance abuse or parent-training organization that ACS recommended a family for has reason to believe the single mother of a 6-year-old is living with a boyfriend who has assaulted her, ACS will now have staffers share information between their IC colleagues and the non-profit.

Depending on the severity of the potential danger to a child, an organization that specializes in domestic violence may also be brought in to work with the family, or an investigative consultant might involve NYPD’s domestic violence division.

ACS says it investigated roughly 60,000 families for child maltreatment last year, and offered preventive services to roughly 20,000 others. Many of the 119 ICs currently employed by ACS were detectives who worked on domestic violence cases.

The new policy seeks to add a level of scrutiny when new boyfriends enter the picture, a variable obviously not factored in during the original assessment of a family. A 2014 Miami Herald investigation, which examined the maltreatment-related deaths of 477 children known to the state child welfare agency, identified 65 cases in which boyfriends or girlfriends of parents were deemed responsible.

In the 2016 report by the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, a case study of Wichita, Kansas, found that half of the children who died of abuse in 2008 were killed by boyfriends living in the home.

“Paramours are a huge red flag,” said Richard Gelles, dean of the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Miami Herald in 2014. “They are enormously over-represented as the slayers of young children.”

The new protocol was one recommendation made by a domestic violence task force convened by de Blasio in November 2016. The task force was co-chaired by the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, and the police Commissioner James O’Neill.

“It’s a wonderful policy that’s moving us forward to really think about the intersection of domestic violence and protective issues in a comprehensive and thoughtful way,” said Cecile Noel, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.

Noel said she had some concerns about the growing role of former law enforcement in a social service context, but thinks their expanded role here is mostly a positive.

“With the proper training and good policies in place, this can be another tool that we can have to be able to ensure that children are safe,” she said.

This sentence was updated to make more clear that Investigative Consultants will not work directly with non-profits who contract with ACS and ask for assistance.

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Michael Fitzgerald
About Michael Fitzgerald 29 Articles
Northeast Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change

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